All able-bodied Koreans between 18 and 38 years old are required to serve military service for 21 to 24 months. Conscripts are prohibited from leaving their barracks unless they are granted vacation authorized by the military.
The ministry eased the restriction from Friday, allowing soldiers to leave their barracks after work from 5:30 p.m. on weekdays for personal affairs, and to return before roll call at 9:30 p.m.
With the new policy, the ministry seeks to create ways for soldiers to communicate with society and to get enough rest for military training.
Before implementing the policy at all military units across the country, the ministry had conducted a test-run on 13 military units from August 2018.
During the trial period, the ministry found there were many benefits in allowing soldiers to leave the barracks, such as boosting their morale. In addition, soldiers would be able to meet their families more often; take care of personal affairs, such as skills development; and obtain medical treatment outside military camps.
The ministry stressed that the policy would not weaken the defense posture of units.
Furthermore, as a reward, or for encouragement, soldiers may leave the barracks to hang out in small groups for an unlimited number of times with the approval of the commanding officer, the ministry added.
For soldiers serving in units where it is difficult to leave -- for reasons such as the location of the unit, or the characteristics of their duties -- the commanding officers may grant longer vacation days.
This comes as the military has been trying to ease its rigid culture. Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo has vowed to ensure the basic rights of soldiers, and to create a more liberal culture.
As part of such efforts, the ministry has been running a trial allowing soldiers to use their cellphones in barracks after work since April 2018.
As of January, 120,000 soldiers in units were allowed to use their cellphones from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends or holidays. The government will expand the plan to 380,000 soldiers by August. Taking photos and using recording devices are still prohibited for security reasons.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)